How to Get Sleep with a Newborn: Managing Sleep & New Baby

Yes, you will sleep again!

You are not alone!

Yes, this is THAT hard.

With my first born, I distinctly remember it being around 3:30 a.m. one night when I was in sitting on the glider in the nursery, milk leaking from the opposite breast as a tried to nurse (for the 4th time that night) in the dark room. I was crying quietly with my baby resting warmly along my torso. With my semi-free hand I googled “will I ever sleep again?” “do babies ever sleep at night?” “why won’t my baby sleep?” I then read none of the results, just letting the search engine populate all the relevant articles while tears streamed down my face.

I was SO TIRED. I was so sad and frustrated.

I couldn’t read. I couldn’t digest information. I couldn’t help myself, nonetheless, help the situation in front of me. My baby was SO FUSSY, all the time. I was back at work and not sleeping. It was hard to breath, function, talk, fake a smile, or contain my emotions on any level. I love my sweet dear child so deeply, but in those moment, I was sad, lonely, bitter and stressed out on so many levels.

I learned a lot of lessons about healthy sleep and rest times for our family from one baby to the next. My suggestions and solutions here are not perfect and not a fit for every parent and baby. However, these are my keys take away that helped our family of four get a ton more sleep! I hope some of the ideas may work for you!

Have a Schedule with your Partner

If you have a partner who can help you, take it. Just because you are home with baby doesn’t mean you don’t deserve or need rest at night too.

When my sons were both newborns, my husband and I would both go to bed around 8:00 pm after the baby was down (…the kitchen was cleaned up, bottles were prepped, laundry was folded, we had checked the last of our work emails for the night…etc.etc.).

I would get up regularly throughout the night with the baby, but around 3:30 a.m. in the morning (after a feed), I would move the monitor over to my husband’s side of the bed and put earplugs in myself. From 3:30am (or so) onward, my husband was in charge! I would sleep until 7:30 am – the last possible second until he needed to race to get ready for his work day.

Generally, my partner was sleeping from about 8:30pm-3:30am, straight. In our view, he was getting roughly 7-hours of sleep and that was good enough for the time being. I got a solid 3 hours of sleep in the morning and roughly 3-4 hours of interrupted sleep throughout the night before then. It isn’t ideal (and absolutely sounds horrible to most anyone who has never had a newborn) but it worked for us.

Get to Bed Early

According to the schedule above, we were upstairs and in bed at 8:00 p.m. and (hopefully) asleep at about 8:30 p.m. This was a hard adjustment, of course. It is not easy to train your body to start going to bed at a different, earlier time. But the exhaustion from the day (and the nights prior) lended to this schedule. Soon enough, you will work your way through an earlier evening to ensure yourself at least some sleep. Save any other chores or to-dos you have on your list for the next day and make bedtime your priority.

Sleep Flat

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Baby #1 to having Baby #2 was the stricter regime and rules around sleeping locations. Having your baby fall asleep in your arms, laying on your chest while they snooze, or carrying them around in a baby carrier for all their daytime naps is a wonderful way to bond. However, weeks and weeks of this cuddly sleep behavior trains your baby to sleep just that way. Being rocked, held, carried, cuddles, and lulled to the land of nod. If this is your preferred method of bonding and sleep, you should not change it according to my suggestions.

However, if you want to being to prepare your child to learn healthy sleep techniques and independent sleep in the coming months – these methods above should be the exception – not the rule. The rule, your baby should lay flat in their safe sleeping location (bassinet or crib) by themself for their naps and bedtime. Sure, taking your baby for a stroller walk while they snooze isn’t the end of the world, but sleeping on the go (moving…) should not be every (or even most) sleep time habits.

Make Nighttime Sterile and Surgical

I learned early on that my son liked seeing me at night – not because he always needed me. He just wanted me! He wanted to be cuddle, warm, held and rocked. Of course he did!

As any mother, I loved the bonding and snuggling time but I learned to overload on this during the daytime and make the nights less inviting and more clinical. Instead of holding my baby for his night bottles – I’d used the Boppy and place it in front of me. He wasn’t getting a good warm snuggle from mama during this feed. I didn’t talk to him or make eye contact with him, to avoid extra stimulation during nights. I learned to not rock him during these periods of time, and simply did what had to be done for a feeding or a change and promptly put him back in his crib for sleep.

It wasn’t exactly easy, he cried and fussed here and there but more quickly than you think, he learned that he could have all the warm love in the world he craved during the daytime, but night was not so fun.

If you are both nursing and bottle feeding, I suggest just bottle feeding at night (and pumping).

Lose the Swaddle

Every nurse, baby book and many sleep training consultants promote the swaddle. I agree! For a period of time – this technique is incredibly helpful for a newborn to sleep well and feel safe. However, the thing they never tell you about is the “swaddle withdrawals”!

When my first son was 4 months old, we were still swaddling him for every nap and bedtime. But suddenly he could roll over all on his own and LOVED doing it! We found ourselves in a completely helpless state – we could no longer swaddle our baby boy safely but that was his strongest sleep cue. That was how he slept!

For one entire week of torture, he did not sleep. I mean, he completely and utterly could not sleep longer than a few minutes without waking – seven full nights. It was horrible. I cried, a lot. I begged, a lot. He didn’t listen.

With our second child, I had learned my lesson with the swaddle. After three weeks, he no longer was swaddled tightly for nap times, soon enough after that, during nap times, he wasn’t swaddled at all. Then, once he was use to that, no more night swaddling. It worked perfectly. We were off the swaddle train before he knew how good he had it. No protest.

We have used the Merlyn Sleep Magic Suit and are sleep sack devotees.

Fill ‘Em Up

From baby #1 to baby #2, I learned a lot about feedings. With our first, we followed the rules and suggestions in the strict new mom self-help books to a T. We were rigorous about not letting our infant go more than 3 or 4 hours without feeding during the night – even if that meant waking him up! Yes –!

He was a perfectly healthy weight and length – but that is what the doctor in the hospital had told us. We were surely rule followers.

With my second child, I learned my lesson. If my baby was sleeping more than 3 or 4 hours since their last feeding, I counted my blessings instead of my bottles. He was a perfectly healthy child and didn’t need a rigid feeding schedule throughout the night. He woke-up and ate when he was hungry.

During the day I filled him up as much as he needed and wanted, especially as the afternoons and evenings wore on. For evening feeds, I was militant about making sure he got enough breastmilk or formula for his last feeding. When I was using both breastmilk and formula, I was sure to make the last feeding formula which seemed to keep his belly more full for longer.

Some friends implemented ‘dream feeds’ – which I never did for fear of waking my sleeping angel – though I understand this can also work well! Talk to your child’s doctor about the feeding schedule throughout the night and ensure your baby can go longer stretches based on their health and weight!

To Stretch or Not to Stretch

A lot of books (and doctors) will tell you to start training your child to go longer stretches of time between feeds during the day to get them use to those gaps at night. I did not find this to help and actually it did the opposite for us. Every child is different.

Our first son could go longer stretches during the day but then in the end, wasn’t getting enough milk to keep him full and happy throughout the night. With our second child, we did the opposite. Any time he wanted to eat during the day- we gave him as much as he craved whenever he craved it! There was no “stretching” out times between feedings during the day – I filled him up! Our nights became easier as he was use to getting his big meals during daylight hours.

Do what is right for you on this one! Get to know your baby and then make your decision. Don’t be afraid to change your approach if it isn’t working.

Give Them Space (and time!)

Echoing my points before, there is a degree of self-inflicted wounds to bare if you teach your child to be held and rocked to sleep. Although some days require a cuddle to calm down and reach some shut eye, this should be the exception and not the rule. Allow your child the space and time to prepare for independent sleep techniques and stick to it as a family. Consistency is key.

If your baby falls asleep on the breast or the bottle, gently wake them and place them down for sleep from a non-nursing position.

Train your Let Down

If you are nursing or pumping (or both), begin to train your body to produce more milk during the day and less at night. Pump and nurse a lot during daytime hours and slowly wee your night pumping or nursing times. Speak with your doctor or a lactation consultant before you go down this path – but for me – that worked well! There were a lot of leaks at the beginning but after some time my body responded properly to the appropriate times my milk was needed. I then was producing more during the day and less at night. Less waking for all!

Create a Peaceful Sleeping Environment

A proper sleeping environment and healthy sleep cues are critical! Get a simple routine going for bed time – it might involve a bath, dressing in cozy pajamas, lotion, having a last nurse or bottle, listening to soothing music, having a quiet and dim room, reading a book, a soft sound machine and/or a lullabye! Just ensure your routine is simple enough for others to follow easily (you don’t have to be the only person do ensure your baby is down for the night!). Every night might not be exactly the same, but the expected routine, cues and preparations should be similar for your baby to get accustom to.

Give Them A Moment

When your baby wakes up and fusses from a nap or in the middle of the night, give them a beat. Sometimes they find their way back to sleep easily after just a moment or two – all by themselves! If you rush into interrupt this process immediately upon seeing or hearing them, they will never learn to fend for themselves when it comes to going back to sleep.

A few minutes of fussing will allow them to either fall back asleep or make it clear they need you. Listen to their cues instead of rushing to their aid.

Explore Sleep Training

Once your child is old enough (and weighs enough) – consider sleep training methods. There are a few. The most popular everyone talks about is “Cry it Out”. There is also the “Extinction Method” and “The Chair Method”.

Sleep training is very personal and also very controversial. If you are completely opposed to the idea to any degree – this part of the post is probably not your cup of tea. Although, I do believe that sleep training works if all parents/caregivers are committed to the same journey together and your child has both the right environment, temperament and is in a healthy state to do so.

In my household, sleep training meant less crying (not more!) and less upset children (and parents!) during the day too. Sleep training for my kids meant well-nourished healthy, independent sleep for physical and mental development. It meant a more rested – and better – mother. Without a doubt, sleep training made us a happier, healthier and more bonded family. But this a personal family decision – you should only do what you are comfortable with!

You Kind of Get Use to it

Not sleeping is like a form a torture. Actually, it is a form of torture.

Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our minds, healthy, emotions, mental state and even our relationships. However, not sleeping as much as your once did becomes common place.

After a while, getting up throughout the night or being up at the crack of dawn becomes life. You get use to it. It doesn’t mean you should get unhealthy amount of sleep for long periods of time (or expect this throughout your kid’s entire childhood!,) it just means, for now, it is what it is and you’ll likely get use to less sleep.

Now that both my children sleep through the night, getting up a few times during the wee hours when they are sick completely throws me off my rocker. When they were infants, that was nothing. Your body does start sustaining more sleep deprivation, but I promise, you will sleep again!

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

If you are in desperation, do not hesitate to reach out for help!

Your baby’s safety and health is number one! If you do not feel well and whole enough to provide night care to your infant, reach out! Being a new mother can be extremely hard, tiring, sad, and lonely. You are not alone!

Talk to your spouse, your family members and friends. Talk to your doctor!

Be direct and forward “I need help, I need sleep. I need to talk to someone.”

The lack of sleep is overlooked by those on the outside, but us mothers/fathers/grandparents who have been in the thick of it know how truly hard it is and know we all have our breaking points.

There are professional sleep consultants, night nurses, night doulas for hire. Your friends, family and spouse are also your lifeline. If none of these are options for you, reach out to your doctor or your child’s doctor immediately for their guidance.

You are not alone and things do indeed get better and easier.